Tik Tok: Time Perceptions in China
Perception of time changes between cultures, and this is particularly the case in Chinese culture. Many times the Western people do not understand the subtly of time in the Chinese culture. The difference can be as easy as knowing monochromatic time utilization. This type of time orientation is doing only one thing at a time. As opposed to multitasking or doing several things at one time as most Western cultures use, the Chinese focus on one task and getting it perfect and then moving to the next.
Time is something that all share but as a cultural norm, the way that we look at it changes from culture to culture. To many Americans time is money as most who use the services of a lawyer or doctor realize all too quickly. Americans value their time and exchange hours for dollars as a matter of course. To the Chinese, though, time is not linear. It is part of a lasting culture in which the individual is a pawn and time is very much a valued commodity. Time isn’t capitalized because it equates to money but it’s valuable.
For example, after a meeting, the Chinese will express the sentiment of gratitude that you have taken your time to meet with them. Time is highly valued, so it is important not to be late to a meeting with the Chinese as the tardiness is akin to stealing or wasting their precious commodity.
Cycle time is the day and night schedule that we all share and that regulates most of our lives. Cyclical time, though, is thought of differently in the West as in the Eastern cultures because the Western will view the cycle of day and night as boring and take it for granted. However, to Chinese, the chance to rise again and have the precious commodity of time is important in their life-cycle. The cycles of time extend to seasons and years. To the Chinese, the endless cycle of birth and death is all part of one great being and not separate as in the West where birth is the beginning of a new person and death the end.
Cycle time relates to a Chinese proverb that states “When God made time, he made plenty of it.” All of us share time but in the Chinese view of time as a monochromatic linear cycle, they only do one this at a time. This primary activity is deemed important enough to warrant your time, and it is imperative to finish the task in an exact time frame. In the Western view of time as polychronic flexibility is the key component. Several activities are going on simultaneously. Their importance in the whole scheme of life is not critical or the order of completion not always determined by each other. Many tasks end naturally.
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It is in part due to the belief regarding the time that there are different innuendos when the Chinese and the westerns meet to do business. One critical aspect is punctuality in various cultures. To Chinese, being late to a meeting is a grave insult. The meeting is a critical time for the businessperson and so to disregard the importance of being on time is akin to shooting yourself in the foot. It is best to plan an agenda to get to the meeting early to avoid any pitfalls that could happen due to traffic or last minute tie-ups.
Understanding the Chinese belief of the importance of time and its value to life it visualizes punctuality in different cultures in of important so some cultures and not to others. What comes along with the understanding of the philosophy of time trickles down to the decision in a meeting. The Chinese are not prone to a commitment after the first or second meeting, and they tend to take their time to decide. A hierarchy of decision makers is often used to come to the result. Remembering the monolithic nature of the view of time and the process of values that the various cultures have will help to understand why it takes so long in Western terms to make a decision.
Perceptions of time are different for cultures and for the international business to proceed in a precise manner all must understand and respect the cultural differences of those in attendance. The issue of respect clears up when you are on time or even early for a business meeting. You are respecting the time of others. Thanking them after the meeting for sharing of their time is another method of showing abatement with the members of the meeting. As a rule of thumb arrive at least 15 minutes before the scheduled time of the meeting.
In the business world, the notion of time is also conveyed by the manner of dress and some nonverbal communication. In business situations, proper attire is required. Clothing is so important for the perceptions of time to other members of the meeting that it is worth your time to clarify the particulars before arriving at the meeting.
Cultural time orientation is essential to the intercultural communication research and reflects the values of culture. The time orientation issue is a lifestyle and in particular with the Chinese, time has its unique benefits. These values are deep-seated in the Chinese culture, and as we learn from Confucius, the cultural legacy transcends the individual’s time sequence. It is the process through which generation after generation passes through their time on earth. The Chinese culture’s time can provide insight and new ways of thinking for the Westerners who equate time to money.